The Suicide Squad earned $4.1 million in Thursday previews, a “record” for a pandemic-era R-rated flick. It’s also essentially tied with the $4 million Thursday preview gross earned by Birds of Prey in February of 2020. That film, despite solid reviews and good buzz, fizzled in theaters, earning “just” $33 million in its opening weekend. In a cruel irony, The Suicide Squad, a $185 million, R-rated DC Films super villain ensemble, could open this weekend with grosses on par with Birds of Prey, a $82 million, R-rated DC Films antihero ensemble, and be considered a relative success.
Cathy Yan’s well-reviewed (79% fresh and 6.8/10 on Rotten Tomatoes) Harley Quinn-and-friends gangster comedy was correctly considered a commercial disappointment in early 2020, grossing an eventual $82 million domestic/$202 million worldwide cume. With infections again rising among (mostly) the unvaccinated, if James Gunn’s acclaimed (93% and 7.7/10 on Rotten Tomatoes) comic book flick opens in the over/under $33 million range of Space Jam: A New Legacy (which cost $150 million) and Jungle Cruise (which cost $200 million), it’ll be hailed as a moderate victory.
There is a certain… tragedy in the much more expensive R-rated action comedy directed by a white guy being commercially graded on a curve compared to the cheaper R-rated action comedy directed and written by Asian women. And, yes, on a lighter curve than that Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984 ($166 million in late 2020) which opened over Christmas in far grimmer theatrical circumstances. All of that said, The Suicide Squad is still pretty good (Idris Elba and Viola Davis are MVPs), and it’s hard to overemphasize how much damage the DC Films brand has taken due to the pandemic.
In “normal” times, Wonder Woman 1984 would have been a global smash ($650 million-$850 million), Matt Reeves’ The Batman would have already kicked butt this summer (maybe not $1 billion, but presumably $650 million-plus) and Gunn’s The Suicide Squad is so well reviewed that its likely commercial disappointment would have been a “for the love of the game” flick that at least brought James Gunn into the DCEU. Oh, and no pandemic means no shortage of HBO Max launch titles, so no “Snyder Cut.”
The green-lighting and media coverage around Zack Snyder’s Justice League pushed not a little frankly revisionist history (critics and audiences didn’t care much for Man of Steel and Batman v Superman so WB eventually brought in Joss Whedon to try to work his MCU magic) to the front of the DC Films narrative. The coverage and conversation put the whole “DC Films can’t do anything right!” narrative back on the table, as if Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Shazam and Joker never happened.
Even in non-Covid times, there is a certain chutzpah in spending $185 million on a sequel to a $175 million Will Smith film which A) features no Will Smith and B) is rated R instead of PG-13. Absent Smith and cameos from Joker and Batman, and that pesky fact that most folks didn’t like (or have fond memories of) Suicide Squad, The Suicide Squad was always a commercially unlikely release. So word that it has earned $4.1 million on Thursday, about on par with Birds of Prey, with a likely over/under $33 million debut, is both a commercial disaster and a soft opening that can’t and shouldn’t be entirely blamed on Covid.
Or, it could be as “leggy” as Jungle Cruise ($34 million from a $2.7 million Thursday) for a $51 million launch, or even like A Quiet Place part II ($4.7 million Thursday/$47.5 million Fri-Sun weekend). That would be both a massive disappointment under normal circumstances. Suicide Squad grossed $65 million on its first day, including $20 million in Thursday previews, for a $133 million opening weekend five years ago. However, in the time of Covid, it would be pretty easy to spin such a launch as a relative win. A far more likely over/under $30 million debut would be much more complicated, unless of course millions upon millions of folks opt for the HBO Max option.